Drugged-Up: Studies Reveal Alarming Psychotropic Drug Use in France

French psychotropic drug use may be excessive. Photo: National Cancer Institute via Wikimedia Commons.

French psychotropic drug use may be excessive. Photo: National Cancer Institute via Wikimedia Commons.

Drug overuse has emerged as an unintended side effect of the French universal national health care system. It is not surprising that the French people are one of the world’s top consumers of prescription drugs considering the 20 million Euros the French government spends on prescription reimbursements annually (the single greatest expense on governmental health insurance). However, a recent study by the Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament (ANSM) has revealed that 32% of French people use psychotropic drugs on a regular basis. Given the dangers of psychotropic medications, this figure is especially concerning.

According to the ANSM, “The level of consummation [of psychotropic drugs] remains important. These drugs are too-often prescribed and over too-long a duration. Previously established health risks remain while new risks are emerging.”

Besides France’s purported pill-popping habit, in 2011 the World Health Organization identified French individuals as the most likely people to experience a “major depressive episode” in their lifetimes. This could partially explain the extensive drug use.

In their 2012 book The Guide to 4,000 Useful, Useless and Dangerous Medicines, Philippe Even, former head of the Necker Hospital in Paris, and Bernard Debré, a doctor and member of French Parliament, conclude that nearly half of all drugs prescribed in France serve no purpose or adversely affect patients’ health. The authors go on to blame the powerful pharmaceutical industry for pressuring doctors to prescribe medications and pressuring the government to make these products easily available.

According to France24, the average French citizen will use 47 medicine packs annually, amounting to 532 Euros per capita. The government fronts most of this cost. According to a survey published last week for the Fédération Hospitalière de France, almost 90% of French people believe they are over-prescribed medication by their healthcare providers.

All that being said, a study published by Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health in 2008 found that American children are three times more likely to be prescribed psychotropic medications than European children. Furthermore, Sweden’s antidepressant usage increased at about 59% annually between 1995 and 2009 compared to a 5% increase per year in France over the same period. While headlines highlight French overuse in particular, the problem of psychotropic drug use may be global.

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